Sakuradai Children’s Dining Hall

In Japan, 3.25 million children under 17 (one in six) were in a state of poverty in 2012, according to the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare. According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), this number is one of the highest among developed countries; Japan ranks poorly even among the 34 OECD member countries. Taking this issue seriously, a church in Nerima-ku, Tokyo, decided to take action against child poverty. Nerima Baptist Church (Japan Baptist Church Association) established Sakuradai Children’s Dining Hall and began opening their dining room twice a month as a place where children and their guardians can gather for nutritious, home-cooked meals at an affordable price. Since October 2015, up to 90 children and adults have gathered and enjoyed not only a hot meal but also warm company at this church.

At 4 p.m., the church dining hall is already busy with staff preparing for the evening. The cooking team, led by a veteran housewife in her 80s, comes up with a delicious menu each time and posts it on their webpage beforehand. A greeting card with a message, “Thank you so much for coming to our dining hall! Please feel free to eat as much as you like!” is placed on each table to welcome visitors, along with a flower vase. As soon as the doors open at 5:30, the dining hall fills with excited children and their parents lining up. Children, parents, and guardians pay 100 yen, while other adults pay 300 yen for a meal. Each person is asked to fill out a sign-up sheet and gets a stamp on their rally card. Many have come numerous times, accumulating ten or more stamps on their cards. After finishing their meals, the children move to the play area where staff entertain them with card games, origami, and storytelling. While their children play, parents enjoy time with each other and the staff.

Mr. Tsukasa Kōno, a representative and head officer of Sakuradai Children’s Dining Hall, comments, “Each person who comes to our dining hall carries a burden, and sometimes they travel far just to come here. It is not only financial issues that burden the mothers’ hearts; concerns about their children’s growth and relationship with their neighbors trouble them a lot too. We are just thankful we can provide a place to encourage families that are raising children.” He continues, “We have tried our best to protect the children’s safety and privacy by avoiding media interviews as much as possible. But then we realized our children’s dining hall had grown to be the largest in Tokyo. We are different from other children’s dining halls in that our primary goal is not social action but rather to joyfully serve local children and their parents. We have many church members and even neighbors who rush to the church after work to demonstrate love to the children. We have learned so many lessons since we started this, and we are grateful for how God has lead us through this all.”

Since some children lose weight over the summer vacation because they don’t get served school lunches, Sakuradai Children’s Dining Hall was preparing (in June 2016) to host a summer-vacation study program with meals provided.

From Christian Shimbun, June 12, 2016
Translated by Hiromi Kiuchi

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